Word Poetry




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Sample Poems by Elinor Cramer

Rescue Truck with Its Doors Flung Open

I heard the wranking of diesel engines
and left your book on the chair.
When I pushed back the curtains, I caught smoke
in my throat. There were ladder trucks
and men pulling on rubber coats, slowly,
not to make mistakes that could mean their lives.

A black cloud seemed to envelop the empty house
next door, where Barb lived until last month.
It was still her house to me,
and I tried to call the new number she had written
on a scrap of brown bag—as if to warn her,
a futile arm waving to get out of any harm’s way.
But she didn’t answer.

Then the firemen disappeared—two houses down,
where TV newsmen shouldered cameras.
It wasn’t Barb’s house at all.

I went back to my chair and the book you lent,
this after our miserable quarrel.
I let the book comfort me
as though you were reading to me.
But wasn’t it my mistake always, to let some object
stand for the one who is gone?
So that I won’t feel like the rescue truck
backed into the curb, its doors flung open,
its empty red heart waiting.

When the trucks had gone and no one else came,
I walked around the burned shell.
Wooden drawers of a bureau had splintered on the lawn,
with sweaters, nylon panties, a green plush horse,
its lopsided muzzle chewed and cowlicked.

What you would want to know:
the father drove up to the curb, and sat dazed.
I offered to help salvage.
There, pressed to the car window, a child snuffled
and sucked her collar, her fingers—
all that would fit in her mouth.

With the fingers I used to hold your book,
the stuffed horse she lost—
I began, on my side of the glass,
to trace the child’s lips. She pressed them
to the pane till they turned white.
It was a solemn game,
neither of us smiled.
Then I began on her thumb.

Two Blue-Green Eggs

She shows me the translucent eggs
so big they’re pushing out of their slots
in the cartons. Two are blue-green.
She has no children, tells me how God
put it in her head to get the ducks.
She turned pages of the homestead journal,
knows by heart: they go back to the Rouen,
the upright Runner, the sky blue egg
of the wild mallard, crossbred by an English woman
named Campbell until the birds are khaki brown.
They are hardy in northern winters,
are meaty and earthbound.

Her mother lost the use of her legs
after a stroke seven summers ago,
sat in the kitchen of this old farmhouse
not even caring to do what her body would still do
until the ducklings were brought home to warm
in a box by the stove. And when their fuzz
was stippled with hollow quills
and they were moved to the fence in the yard,
the old woman asked to have her chair moved outside,
the first time in seven years.

The ducks strut back and forth hardly ever flapping
their wings, too heavy to fly.
The old woman picks her way from the stove
to the table. She would have to remember
the dancing in her legs. The blue-green eggs
have only the color of a light sky over water.

Hibernation in Turtles While the Faithful Are Waiting

I heard of a man with three land turtles who buries them
in peat moss each fall: Pistol, Fireball and Ulysses.
They move into hibernation, eighteen inches
under the ground. And over them he places lucky charms:
a hood ornament, a blue bottle, a souvenir key chain,
as a father might place a glow-in-the-dark prayer
above the children’s bed to watch over their sleeping.

When the other Ulysses returned after twenty years,
it was the faithfulness of the ones who waited
that moved us more than his heroics in war
or his journey home. The old nurse washed
his weary feet before she knew him.
This man washes mud from the stone backs of turtles
and their leather feet in the kitchen sink,
saying, “Welcome home, Fireball. Welcome home, Ulysses.”

Penelope becomes even more herself with time.
She turns into constancy the way the turtle draws
its head and feet closer to the heart. The heart suspends
for moments at a time, so that no change is seen.
(The threads are unraveled by night.)
Only the essential lives on. This man sits motionless
at the kitchen table waiting for the turtles’ periscope
necks to push through the ground like wedges of crocus.

Mary’s Baby

for Mabel

When Mary, my middle sister,
was one hundred and one years old,
I ran the bedpans and changed the linens
along with the aide, the stranger we paid
and trusted in our home. We weren’t foolish,
having our eldest sister six months
under the care of a home aide before we lost her.

After a long night of Mary’s moaning in her sleep,
I opened the trunk and unwrapped
her porcelain doll. The clear eyes and blush
of lips and cheek gave her, of all our dolls,
the sweetest face that we would know of an infant—
the three of us girls never having married.
Of all our treasures, only the babies with china heads
were shut away—even my broken doll.

I brought her baby to the sickbed.
Mary must have known then, as maybe I did too,
that she was near her end.
She pulled the baby to her chest and she quieted.
In the morning I let her sleep, her arm
still wrapped around her best comfort.
I let the stranger see into our spinsters’ heart—
not only the doll, but the pity of it.

The worst next to losing Mary, and after the aide
was long gone—Grandfather’s handmade tools
and Seth clock in their places—

was to open the trunk, and find
under the blankets, all of them gone,
even my second best baby.


Drowsing as at the breast,
lips pumping, then not,
big as that feeder come home.
Only a mouth.

Mud baby, bottom grazer,
sucks root and weed.
He suns near my boat, his chubby dorsal
warming above water
in the shallows.

My boat nuzzles into hummocks
and blackbirds charge from the stubble,
their damp nursery.
The boat and I rock in floating rushes;
water laps at baby’s back.

Then the carp’s gone—
channeling plumes through the muck.

7 P.M.

In the half-light nothing stirs:
three doves, their puffed breasts
to the damp ground.

The baby stares through me.
Her lips stilled on the nipple,
she moves into sleep.